Just Shelley

Bookbinding and Disappointment

I had a call tonight. All the person said on the line was, ‘You are nothing’, and then hung up. Odd sort of call for a crank.

It came when I was in the middle of cutting more paper for another one of the books I’m making. Each of these books is a gift for someone who is important to me, someone I care for. I’ll post a photo of all the books when finished, though the going is slow.

Some aspects of the bookbinding have been a surprise and delight for me. For instance, I’ve found that I’m quite good at cutting things out–even things that are complex and curvy. Though I had a slight accident when I was putting the exacto knife blade into its piece of protective cardboard and pushed through it into my finger, I am, shall we say, to the knife born.

In addition, the primary component of one of the star tunnel books has also come out extraordinarily well; I can only hope the rest of the book falls in line. The Japanese stab binding books are extremely satisfying in their elegance and simplicity; with their colorful covers, intricate knots, and handmade papers.

A couple of the projects, though, have not gone as expected. It’s not that they don’t match my mental expectations; it’s that when they are real, they aren’t what I was hoping to achieve. Disappointing that, but I think that all good craftwork results in disappointment from time to time.

Working on the books provides something I’ve been missing in my life–a tactile contact that I don’t have with other activities. What I particularly like about working on the books is that I can attach part of my mind to the task at hand, but the rest is free to roam, to think on other things. I can’t do this when I’m working on the computer, nor when I’m on most of the trails I hike, either (that’s a good way to end up with a broken ankle).

Today while working, I found myself thinking, oddly enough, about the weblogger known only as Invisible Adjunct. She’s been on my mind ever since I read her decision to not only quit her weblog, but also the profession she had been working towards for a long time–a tenure-track position at a university. I thought about her disappointment, which must be acute; but I was also taken by the grace she exhibited when she wrote about her decisions:

A few months ago, I made a vow to myself that this would be my last semester as an invisible adjunct. Since I’ve failed to secure a full-time position in my final attempt at the academic job market, what this means, of course, is that I made a vow to leave the academy. Six more weeks of teaching, and I head for the nearest exit.

Though I must inevitably feel a sense of loss and sadness, it’s thanks to this blog and its readers that I don’t feel the kind of life-twisting bitterness that I might otherwise have experienced. I’ll take with me, among other things, a knowledge of XHTML (which I never thought I could learn!), an undiminished passion for the Scottish Enlightenment, and a heightened sense of life’s possibilities.

In the meantime, I’ve decided to give up the blog.

Simple words expressing a profound message. It was the nature of her writing that made her words that much more piquant and feeling and even though I’ve never been a reader of hers, I felt a deep and personal connection with her–all through her elegant acceptance of her disappointment.

I know some may not agree with me–Invisible Adjunct’s words are seen as a cry to arms, to kindle anger at the academic establishment that fosters the heartbreak of so many. I can also imagine the loss that IA is experiencing, having myself lost a career built up over 20 years. But Invisible Adjunct showed that there is a beauty in disappointment; that it can be a way of stripping away one more layer of the wants and needs we wrap about ourselves; leaving the core essence of what we are, separate from what we want to be. Or, as she eloquently put it, what remains is …a heightened sense of life’s possibilities.

This afternoon, out walking on a familiar trail where I can safely let my mind wander, I thought more about disappointment, and how it can be shallow and slight, such as the minor disappointments we suffer growing up; or it can be deeply altering, such as that which Invisible Adjunct embraced.

The shallow disappointments, the present not received, the trip not taken, the treat denied, are minor and trite and soon forgotten unless we ourselves bring them up in a burst of pettiness. You know what I mean–the anger at spouse or parent when you regress to that young inner child and pettishly say, “But you didn’t get me that doll”, or, “But you didn’t get me that coat I wanted.” Getting caught up in these slight acts makes us as small as the act, and the wise person quickly purges them from memory so as not to waste time in an infantile state.

“You promised!” You promised! You promised!

The larger disappointments, though, they’re different. Having to leave a beloved career, as Invisible Adjunct did; discovering that a long-held hope will not be realized; being deeply in love with someone who is attracted to another; a wished for pregnancy that turns out to be a false alarm–these are emotionally significant disappointments, and they shape us in small ways and large, though we may not know it when the event occurs, and may not cherish it until later. Much later.

Disappointment is not grief, though grief can also have its own beauty, a darker beauty like watching the moonlight reflect on the wings of a moth in the darkest hour of the night. Unlike disappointment, grief never ends. It may become less real over time and the sharp edges dull, and we may become better because of it–but it never leaves.

No, living through a profound disappoint is like being sick, for a very long time, and then gradually getting well again. The experience isn’t pleasant, and may even be frightening because you wonder if you will recover; but then there’s that moment when you wake and you feel better. You rise, and take your first steps away from your bed, lightheaded, as if you’re not quite anchored to the earth.

I have this mental image of a person who has suffered through a profound disappointment. I see them as a figure wearing a cloak of soft, sad grey; gradually, over time, they drop the heavy cloak and underneath is …

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